YONCALLA — For a fifth consecutive season, the Yoncalla High School boys basketball program will have a new voice leading the team.

The school announced last month that Don Hakala will take over the program for the 2020-21 school year and he’s bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge along with him.

“I’m super excited to be able to be coaching at Yoncalla,” Hakala said. “I think it will be a great experience for me and hopefully the boys as well, because I’m excited for it.”

This will be the first high school head coaching job for Hakala, who has previously coached at the prep, college and professional level, but hasn’t been on the bench in more than a decade.

“I always felt like I would be a high school coach and just do that after playing in college,” said Hakala, who had to step away from coaching while focusing on his career as an administrator in the Salem-Keizer School District.

The opportunity to get back on the sideline presented itself after Hakala made the career move to Yoncalla Elementary, which was closer to his home in Eugene than his previous job at Lee Elementary in Salem. Hakala was the principal at Yoncalla Elementary last school year.

He succeeds Lourie Hall as the Yoncalla boys coach. She lasted one season with the Eagles, going 10-14 overall in 2019-20 and finishing fourth in a loaded Skyline League North Division.

Taking over a new program during a global pandemic has proven to be just as difficult as it sounds.

“This has been a difficult transition for me,” said Hakala, who hasn’t had a chance to meet his players or spend time in the gym with the team. “We’ll definitely be behind getting started because we didn’t have a summer.”

High school facilities started reopening this month and prep sports have started holding limited workouts, but Hakala’s coaching tenure with the Eagles hit another snag that will delay their start even more. The coach is serving a two-week quarantine after a family member tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I’m hoping two weeks, we’ll be ready to go and start setting up stuff,” Hakala said.

Hakala plans to focus on a strong defensive gameplan, even though he was more offensive-minded during his playing days at West Linn High School, Linfield College and in professional leagues in Australia.

“If you talk to any of the people that I played with, they’d say I took off on the defensive end and just focused on offense because I got to score,” Hakala said.

Hakala’s name appears in the Linfield record books 52 times in 34 categories after a four-year career with the Wildcats. He holds the record for most points scored in a single season and is tied for most points scored in a single game. He’s also second in career scoring.

Hakala’s success at Linfield surpassed his father, Don Sr., who attended the school from 1963-66. Don Sr. ranks in the top 10 for career points, scoring average and field goals made. The Hakala’s became the first father-son duo to be inducted into the Linfield College Athletics Hall of Fame.

“He was an incredible fan of mine,” Don Jr. said of his father, who passed away in 2000. “He would tell me ‘Hey you got to do this, because I want you to break my records.’ Every dad wants their child to be better than them and he supported that 100%.”

Coaching was also a family activity for the Hakalas. Don Sr. started the Hakala Hoops Camp with Don Jr. and his other son Andy in 1993.

Joey Keeran is the sports director for KSKR The Score.

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